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Reports From the Road
SCAA Boston Day Three Report
Posted: July 5, 2003
Article rating: 8.9
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Downtown Boston

I know this one is long coming, and my apologies for that! I'm fortunate my non-photographic memory had my trusty hands to take copious notes, and as I read them over, it's all coming back to me...


Yeah, Day Three at the SCAA is best described as one full of fear for me. You see, I was scheduled to give a presentation that day, and then moderate a discussion panel.

I don't like public speaking. I never have. Never will. And I had no clue how many people would be at my events, but it didn't matter. I feared a packed house, and I feared no one showing up. I dislike public speaking so much that on Sunday, I turned down CBS and their Morning Show producer who wanted me on camera for a sound bite or two. There were much better suited folks for that.

And I was seriously bummed out that I would miss most, if not all of the World Barista Championships.

But let's get into it, shall we?

Fear Factor, or How I talked to lots of people at once

I got up extra early Monday morning to start the long process of psyching myself up to speak in front of a crowd. I also had to go over my notes one last time. I was up until very, very late the night before, redoing my notes and cards, and printing them illicitly off the hotel's laser printer (the card reader wasn't working in the business center, thus no printing. I naturally freaked out, but after I calmed down, I discovered I could unplug the parallel port from the card reader box, and plug it right into my WinXP notebook.

Ahh the wonders of automatic drivers in WinXP Pro!

I got to the Hynes Center at around 7:30am, no breakie, no coffee in me. I got my first big break of the day - Don Holly, of Green Mountain Coffee (and the guy I joshed on the previous Friday night about knowing what crema is about) was my facilitator - my take charge person to make sure everything went smoothly.

He was also my facilitator - as in the person who scores how well (or crappy) I do and hands in my scores to the SCAA. Uh oh. He did know I was kidding around on Friday night, right?

Don calmed me down considerably when things started going wrong. My internet connection wasn't working (a big part of my presentation), and my mike to notebook wasn't working. Don made the calls, and got it working.
I think I am the only person presenting at the SCAA Trade Show who was introduced twice for the same presentation. Don Holly stood up and introduced me and what the presentation was about (it was about Venturing into eCommerce). Then Dougie Zell stepped up and gave a much more comical introduction of me and who I was to the crowd. It cut the ice a bit.

To be brutally frank, I don't remember much of the presentation. I did have Barry Jarrett's angry bunny up on my podium, staring at me and giving me solace. I remember that. I also remember that I had four panelists, including Chris Nachtrieb from ChrisCoffee, Tom Owen from Sweet Marias, Trey Elder from Intelligentsia Coffee and Kyra Kennedy from Baratza up to help me out with the last 20 minutes of my 'thing].

Everyone said I did fine, although I went on too long. (By the way, a copy of my presentation will be online very soon at my company's website, WebMotif; we just launched a new version of our website, and are cleaning up the holes before I get the presentation online).

Oh, I remember one other thing. Everyone on my panel got a chance to talk, except Kyra. She even indicated she wanted to answer a question at one point, but the answers from the other panelists had gone on too long, and I had to move on to the next question, and I cut her off. She never got another chance to speak. I suck.

As soon as that adventure was over, I had to rush halfway across the Hynes and up a floor to go chair / moderate a panel of consumers ready to take questions from industry members.

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Discussion Panel for eMembers at the SCAA

Karen Foley, of Fresh Cup Magazine was my facilitator for this event. Man, I gotta tell you, I was seriously fortunate in who I ended up with as facilitators - you couldn't ask for better than Karen or Don. Karen handled introducing me (in a very gracious way too - she didn't have any notes from me, and did it off the cuff, and made me out to be a better person than I actually am ;))

I'd be lying if I said the turnout wasn't a disappointment for me: only about 25 to 30 industry folks in the audience. but I think the panel session was an absolute hit, and those who were there learned a lot (sorry rest of you SCAA industry members - it sucks to be you - you missed something special! ;)) Next year, our "Reverse Panel" will be held on a Saturday morning, and hopefully lessons learned from this year will aid promotion of the next time so we have a packed house.

On the panel were Scott Rothstein, Fortune Elkins, Marshall Fuss, Jim Schulman, and David Westebbe. All impressed the crowd with their intense knowledge and interest in the coffee industry, and as the moderator, I found my job was pretty damned easy overall - the flow was good, and I only had to cut short the answers once or twice for the entire session. Next year, something like this will go on again in Atlanta, and I think we'll have a packed house for that one.

World Barista Competition and more

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Once my "responsibilities" to the SCAA were over with, I ran like a mad dog down to the second floor to catch the remnants of the World Barista Championships.

By the time I got down there, the last competitor was finishing up in the final round. I did have a CG reporter there as well, and they were supposed to file a report, but who knows if that will happen.

I took over photography duties, and got lots of snaps of the winners being announced. In order:

  • Paul Bassett, Australia, with 607 points
  • Asa Jelena Petterson, Iceland, with 586.5 points
  • Eirik Johnsen, Norway, with 580.5 points
  • Troels Overdal Poulsen, Denmark, with 568.5 points
  • Vikram Khurana, India, with 512.5 points
  • Irina Puzachkova, Russia, with 477 points

I won't go into more detail about the WBC here, but I will talk about the aftermath. I have to say all the Baristi were the best in the world, and it was interesting to interact with them after the competition. I had interesting, albeit short convos with Vikram and Eirik, getting promises from both for future interviews for the site. Paul was far too busy being adored by the crowd for me to spend more than a minute talking to him, but hey, that's what you get when you win the WBC! I also enjoyed the interaction and camaraderie between all the Baristi - it's a true community, and the entire group as a whole are first class - everyone was happy for Paul way before they were sad for their own finishing order.

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Irina Puzachkova from Russia does her stuff.
The crowd was packed, and standing room only.
Eirik Johnsen gets congratulated for his 3rd place.
The very moment Paul Bassett realises he's won.
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Vikram Khurana shows off his fifth best in the world trophy!
Paul Bassett gets a hearty congrats from Kent Bakke of ESI (La Marzocco)
Paul Bassett and wife (left) and trainer (right).
Sherri Johns, organizer of the USBC, board member and judge in the WBC.

I looked at my watch, and realized that if I was ever going to get an interview with Dr. Illy, I had to go on a "seek and find" mission pronto (or is that a "mish"?). Little did I know I wouldn't stop 'running' until five hours later.

As Mark Becomes a Rushing, Running Fool

I must have covered almost the entire main floor in a record twenty minutes, hunting down Dr. Illy and his entourage. I didn't find him, and I have to say that was a major disappointment. I was hoping the words of his assistant, that I could have a short sit down interview if time could be found, would come true. Alas, it wasn't meant to be.

Then I realized I was late for another commitment - one I forgot I had. The cMember tour of the show floor, organized by my SCAA Committee, the Consumer Marketing Committee.

I looked at my schedule for the walk, and realised the group would be at the La Minita booth, speaking with Bill McAlpin. I got there and found a gaggle of about 8 or 10 consumers hanging out with Kimberly Easson (SCAA Consumer Marketing Committee Chair) and Don Schoenholt (Gilles Coffee), the fella giving the tour. McAlpin was waxing poetic about the coffee scene in Central America and specifically about his farms in Costa Rica, and the crowd was very enthused and attentive.

We walked over to the elevators next, and headed up to the Bodum Booth where Jeff Malkasian, VP with Bodum USA, talked about Bodum's thoughts and positioning in quality coffee in North America. I caught Malkasian making a reference to an article I wrote a long time ago on this site called Why I Like Bodum, tying it in with Bodum playing an important part in Americans' pathway to quality coffee, and I have to say, I was pleased as punch to hear that.

I wanted to stay more with the tour, but I found that time was getting short, and I still needed a proper walking tour of the second floor, so I had to break away from the group, planning to hook up with them again once they got to the CoffeeKids booth.

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Bill McAlpin of La Minita Tarrazu Farms talks to the cMember tour group.
Don Schoenholt checks to make sure the tour group can get a small speech from McAlpin
Don Shoenholt (foreground, side view, left-center) listens to the Bodum folks give a talk.
Jeff Malkasian of Bodum talks to the cMember group

The Show Floor: Second Floor

Since I was at Bodum's display, I scoped out their new offerings. First, Bodum's getting into the espresso biz this fall with a new Automatic espresso machine that focuses on Bodum's typical stylistic looks and highlights using good water. We should be getting an early production machine from the company in the fall, but it looks good.

Bodum's electric vac pots, the Santos and miniSantos, were front and centre in their booth, with a demonstration area set up where dozens upon dozens of pots were brewed for show attendees. Malkasian said it was a very popular aspect of their booth, and he is enthusiastic about the Santos' family's longevity in the marketplace - all good news to the ears of this vac pot fan.

I did stop by the Baratza booth the previous day, but I stopped by again today for the "official visit", and got some good details on two new machines Baratza will be importing and manufacturing. First, there's the Maestro Plus grinder, which is due on market by mid or late July of this year. The grinder is an updated version of their wildly popular Maestro grinder - the new one has a greater grinding range, is a bit closer to a "stepless" design (but not quite there), and has a lot of extra weight in the front base - around 6 or 7oz, according to Baratza. This makes the grinder seem more serious as an appliance when you use it, and it doesn't tip over if you use the one touch grinding feature.

The other product they were highlighting is the new Palazzo super automatic, which is a direct competitor to Starbucks' showcase consumer Super Auto, the Saeco Italia.

I dropped by the Imex Enterprises Inc booth next to scope out a wide variety of coffee brewers, including some cona brewers and some very intriguing balance brewers I haven't seen before. I wish I could say more about them, but they don't have a web site that I know of, but those balance brewers were very cool and present a range of choice for people in the market for these unique coffee brewers. The Imex folks can be reached via imexenter@aol.com if you have any questions about their products.

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Bodum Columbia line of products.
The Santos' line and Bodum's whacked colours!
The metal body Antigua grinder.
A Maestro Plus, and off camera to the left, a Palazzo super auto.
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From Baratza, the Maestro Plus. Apologies for the blurry pictures, but see the metal bottom?
The Imex Enterprises booth with lots of imported goodies.
Imex brings in a line of moka pots, the Cona line of vac pots, and new balance brewers I haven't seen before.
Close up of the balance brewer. Looks great!

After an appropriate amount of time at the Vac Pot booth, my next stop was a few of the Pavillion sites - Brasil and Mexico. Brasil was pretty much the same experience I had last year - they were a busy lot, and unless I was someone buying a million pounds of coffee, at best I could get a cursory glance. Oh well, big coffee. Their booth was impressive, as usual though.

The Mexican booth was more friendly, but I could tell they were getting tired and hunkered for the waning moments of the show, this being the last day and all... and a look at my watch showed that the floor was only open for another hour!

I got samples from a half dozen farms and coops and even spoke to a very nice woman who's name I never got (I'm such a sucky reporter), and got a sense on how serious Mexico is becoming about quality coffee. I do have to say that I've been pleasantly surprised by the rise in quality from Mexican varietals I've had in the last year or two, so her marketing talk is backed up by my taste buds and their increasing pleasure over Mexican coffee.

My next stop was the Cimbali booth, but not before I literally bumped into Gianni Spinazzola, from Spinazzola Imports. I've talked to Gianni for what seems like dozens of hours on the phone over the past year or two, but meeting him in person for the first time was a shock and a pleasant surprise. After brief introductions, he decided to follow me around on my whirlwind walk of the floor.

At the La Cimbali booth, I focused mainly on the Junior series of machines, which is one of those little secrets of the quality coffee world - as it stands right now, the La Cimbali Junior D/1 is possibly the best "realistic" machine you could get for the home. It's big, don't get me wrong, but it is runs on household current, has a big 2.25 litre boiler, is a true professional machine, and has a volumetric pump. I know a few Junior owners, and they smile with the same serene satisfaction that Omega Seamaster Professional watch owners have :). Plus the machine looks show-stopping gorgeous in person.

Another Pavilion Booth was in our way: Nicaragua. I won't write too much about it here - partially because I have big things planned for CoffeeGeek with regards to Nicaraguan coffee - but to quote from a FatBoy Slim song, "we've come a long long way, baby". Nicaraguan coffee is the poster child these days for several things: how to get quality and standards right (modern technology methods); how to benefit the farmers (their co-op system); and increasing bean quality that has come a near-quantum leap in the last few years.

In short, I highly recommend you try a Nicaraguan varietal or two in the next month to see what I'm talking about. Make sure you get the good stuff from a good roaster / retailer - they know the score.

Then it was off to yet another booth - Fetco this time.

Fetco's a company that in many ways is leading the drip brew commercial industry. You may think Bunn is in this position, but from this observer's standpoint, Bunn seems to copy what other drip brewer companies do, after seeing if it is successful or not. I rarely see Bunn innovate. Fetco on the other hand, does.

Part of my reason for stopping at the Fetco booth was to see if discussions I had with a rep in the fall showed something: a new high-tech brewer for the home / office market. Alas, they had nothing new in this regard for the show - but I am on Fetco's case to get something done for this untapped market. They may be outstaged by a European upstart called Animo if they aren't too careful.

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The Mexico Pavillion at the SCAA
Brasil's National Pavillion booth at SCAA. A bit austere.
Cafe Rosto booth - I didn't get a chance to talk, but they were busy.
The Nicaragua Pavillion at the SCAA show.
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Fetco's Booth at the SCAA. Apologies for the blurry shot.
One of Fetco's new extractor-pulse brewers, "suitable for the office" I was told.
La Cimbali had a very interesting booth at this year's show.
The La Cimbali Junior DT/1 machine, a thoroughbred for the home.

Next up was one of my favourite booths: Elektra. I love visiting the Elektra booth. Not only are the machines the best looking collection of espresso equipment on the planet, but Dr. Federico Fregnan, (the current generation of Fregnans running Elektra), is a true gentleman and a pleasure to meet and speak with.

Elektra doesn't have anything new at this show - last year, their Nivola machine was a new venture for them - but they had their goods in force and in show. On the shelves were a collection of Micro Casa a Levas, Semi Automaticas, Nivolas, and other machines, all shining and lustrous.

I have a Micro Casa Semi Automatica from 1st Line in the review channel at the moment, and let me tell you, not only does this machine look spectacular, but it performs brilliantly as well. In fact, my buddy Aaron De Lazzer, who has a distinct distain for home machines, thinks it is amazing, and brewed an awesome shot.

I wanted to spend the rest of the day at the Elektra booth chatting with Federico, but my time was limited, so I got a brewed shot on the show machine, the Barlume machine with the gorgeous light show and the African rosewood handles on the portafilters, then I was off again.

My next stop was meeting Richard Hourizadeh, the owner of Astra Espresso Machines. Astra has several machines in their lineup that are well suited for the home or office, including the Astra Pro machine which is pretty cool looking in person, and the Gourmet model which is available in 220 or 110 versions, plumbed in or pourover.

The Astra Pro lacks a hot water wand, but it has a very tightly controlled pressurestat for delivering good temperature stability and excellent, long term steaming ability. I remember the last time I saw this machine - Hourizadeh left the steamer valve open as we chatted... and some five minutes later, it was still going full blast!

I looked at my watch and realised that I missed the rendezvous with the cMember Tour at the CoffeeKids booth, so I tried to catch the tail end of the group at the Dallis Coffee booth. I got there, but missed the crowd. I did get a chance to chat with fellow committee member Jim Munsen of Dallis Coffee, and Stephen Schulman, who also works with Dallis, but is heading up a new subsidiary, Kudo Beans. Schulman let me play a bit on a Faema E61 Legend machine, which is the first time I got to try the new replica machine of the famous 1961 espresso brewer that revolutionized espresso making. It was a riot.

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Dr. Fregnan makes me a shot on the Barlume
The beautiful Barlume Elektra machine - but it has an autofrother! :(
Some of the gorgeous home machines Elektra makes.
Astra Pro machine for the home. Made in the US.
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CoffeeKids booth - I missed the tour group!
Dallis Coffee booth with the goregous Fame E61 machine.
Stephen Schulman, finding me a t-shirt!
The boys at Cirqua water had a good demo of different types of water.

I wanted to spend more time with the guys at Dallis, but as mentioned frequently in this report, I was running late, and I had only about 30 minutes of show floor time left - and people were already packing up their booths. So I hustled my ass over to Newco, to check out their wares. I know Newco has at least one home / office brewer, and others that would fit the bill, but when I tried talking to them about the home offerings, their interest level dropped to sub zero, so I moved on.

Near Newco was the GCS Booth the folks at Grindmaster... their interest is purely commercial, but they are an engaging bunch and it was very different from my Newco booth visit. The GCS guys seemed genuinely concerned and educated on what makes good coffee. The talk wasn't much on their products - my brief discussion with them was about what makes a quality cup of coffee, and their words were hitting on all cylinders: proper temps, proper grind, proper dispersion patterns, proper saturation times. Again, I was getting disappointed, but this time the disappointment was because my time left on the floor was so brief, and anytime a manufacturing company wants to talk about the theory behind good coffee, I soak that stuff up.

Spinazzola and I then stopped by another country pavilion booth - the Costa Rica camp, where they were getting packed up to end the show. I grabbed a few samples of green and moved on to the La Spaziale booth to check out their wares. They had this great demo machine with the sides all cut out (including the sides of the boiler), showing the interior guts of one of their commercial jobbies. It was quite cool to see.

Then it was over to the Kona Coffee Council booth, where I briefly talked with Cea Smith of SmithFarms Kona Coffee, which is a small 5 acre coffee growing farm in Kona. I've known Cea for a long time, and it is always good to catch up with her in person. I wasn't able to make the "alties' dinner" on Saturday night, and was too busy the rest of the show, so I was glad I had a chance to chat with her for a while.

Even though I wonder about Bunn's commitment to innovation some times, I did want to stop by their booth to chat with someone for a few moments, but when I got there, they were too busy thinking about shutting down, and after five minutes, I couldn't find anyone willing to answer any questions, either about consumer products or new "cutting edge" commercial products they may be introducing. It's a shame because I did want to talk to them about the new thermal carafe home brewer they brought to market, but I couldn't even see one on display in their booth.

Faema was nearby, and while they were also slowly packing down their booth, I got a chance to speak to two of the marketing / sales types about the Faema Family (yes, it is available in the US now; for eg, the Stanz Company will sell you the Faema Family Espresso machine and grinder if you want it). Of course, we chatted up the Faema E61 Legend machine, which I thoroughly lusted over (but didn't get to use, like I did at Dallis' booth!).

It was the end of the show!!! Panic!!! What to do!!!

But I was standing right next to the Ethiopian Pavillion, and a farmer was just standing there, smiling, so I went to chat with him. I talked about my "So You Say There's a Coffee Crisis" article, and he made me open my notebook computer, dial up the Internet right there (thank you WiFi!) and load up the page so he could read it.

It was very interesting to see his reaction. He even corrected a couple of minor mistakes in the text for me (which I have since corrected), and was smiling broadly by the end. He told me he was very grateful that our website tries to get these issues out there in public; which, I'll admit, made me pretty darned happy.

I hated giving this guy the brush off (and I didn't even catch his name), but I had to run onto the otherside of the floor to see if I could catch the Isomac Booth before it was entirely packed away. Before I got there though, I had probably the most unpleasant experience of my entire time on the show floor. I won't mention the booth owner, but I stopped at this booth that had these new kind of piston-controlled moka pots. I was intrigued, until the used-car-type sales guy opened his mouth. Within 45 seconds, he:

  • denounced Dr. Illy as a fraud
  • claimed espresso (with a pump driven machine) is destroying coffee
  • claimed his piston could produce what scientists have determined as being the perfect pressure for coffee
  • denounced Dr. Illy once more.

I would have dearly loved to get into a debate with the guy, but didn't because a) he was a used-car salesman type, and they never listen anyway, and b) I had to get to the Isomac booth!

I did manage to make it to the Isomac stall before most of the booth was gone, but it was already half-packed away. I did get to see a new machine called the Maver, which I have to say is a real beaut. Check out the photos to see what I mean.

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Bunn's Booth. "Hey, we're working, here!"
GCS had a few guys waxing poetic about what makes a perfect cuppa. I loved it!
Set up like a small taverna (or caffe), the Costa Rica pavilion was small and dead on the last day.
La Spaziale made it to this year's show.
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The cool cutout machine at the La Spaziale booth.
Cea Smith at the Kona Council booth, thinking about pakcing up!
Faema had a very large booth with almost ever ymachine in their lineup.
The revolutionary E61 machine, reborn as the E61 Legend.
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Frong view of the Legend machine. Even the PF handles are faithfully replicized.
Ethiopian Pavilion at the show, starting to break it down for shipping.
The new Maver home espresso machine and matching grinder, from Isomac.
Maver espresso machine and grinder. Luscious!

Wrap Up and Conclusions

If it isn't obvious to you by now, let me make some things clear:

  • The SCAA Annual Conference and Trade Show is a big honkin' show!
  • I put way too much on my plate again at this year's show
  • I look funny when I'm running around

The SCAA Boston show was big, and pretty much a success - more successful in certain regards, less so in others. I did hear earfuls of complaints from booth owners on the second floor, because traffic was way too low on that floor (compared to the main floor). They were also disappointed with the handwritten, "amateurish" signs that the SCAA put up to entice people to head up to the second level.

Some vendors on the first floor were very disappointed that some of the main doors, the ones that spilled out into the main lobby, were closed the entire time. They thought these would be high traffic areas, and they weren't. The SCAA contends that the booth signup forms and papers stated clearly that these doors would be closed, but my guess is, many of the booth buyers didn't read those clauses. The SCAA would do well in the future if they verbally warned booth renters if doors on the floor map are going to remain closed.

And, there were plenty of "lessons learned" on how to better promote the new cMember initiative. We had around 10 people sign up as consumer Members; I would have been enthused if it were 100 members signing up. But the lessons have been learned - I'm already privy to some major plans for cMembership at next year's show in Atlanta.

Also, a personal observation.... "the things I have to do for your CoffeeGeeks!!!"

That's a thought running through my head. Let me talk a brief moment to explain: The SCAA show is "business to business". Sure, there are several booths where 100% of what they have is consumer goods, but most of the booths by companies that have both consumer and commercial goods? They don't want to talk consumer stuff. They're much more concerned with moving a dozen 3 group commercial machines than 48 (or 96, or 128) consumer machines. And in some rare cases, it was quite obvious they couldn't care less about how the end-user felt about the product, or used it.

As a reporter on the scene, my focus is primarily consumer-oriented because by and large, consumers are the focus of the CoffeeGeek site. It is quite challenging at times to engage these companies in a consumer, end-user oriented discussion. Some are very open to it (Rancilio, Isomac, Thermos Nissan, Bodum, come to mind), but many others are just... silence. Even some of the consumer-oriented booths are very reluctant to talk about the end user - instead, they want to talk about how many palettes of stuff one might buy.

This is changing though. This year, more booth owners were aware of the CoffeeGeek site, which made my "in" a bit more easy; also, I think the new cMember category the SCAA is rolling out will also be of great help for some eye-opening.

Don't get me wrong here. I'm not trying to make the SCAA show into a consumer-only or consumer-weighted show. But I am grousing a bit about how difficult some booth operators (and business owners) are to approach about the subject of how their business modus operandi thinks about the end-user. Some were more difficult than others.

And before you think I got nothing good to say about the SCAA show in my wrapup....

Many people I talked to at the show thought it was a rousing success. There were plenty of booth operators who saw both short term benefits (immediate contracts signed), and long term benefits (promise for further biz discussions, networking, long term contracts) at the show. Almost everyone thought the educational sessions and training were worth the dough paid, and the SCAA's resource centre (where books etc were sold) was a rousing success.

The USBC was a good event and really showcased the epitome of what a good Barista in the US is all about. The WBC went even further, with a standing room only crowd for most of the event, and even some primo coverage by CBS' Morning Show.

The organizers of the event did a very good job overall, in my opinion, and the 2003 SCAA show in Boston was definitely a huge success.

Now there's next year in Atlanta!

Article rating: 8.9
Posted: July 5, 2003
feedback: (4) comments | read | write
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